Belfast Telegraph

Exclusive: DUP's Newton all smiles with UDA terror chief Birch

The speaker and the kneebreaker

By Ciaran Barnes

These are the photos that show the relationship between under-pressure DUP MLA Robin Newton and a UDA terror chief.

The unguarded images show loyalist godfather Jimmy ‘Millions’ Birch wrapping his arm around the £87,500 per year Assembly speaker while they both smile for the camera.

One of the pictures was taken in the summer of 2016 — nine months AFTER a government assessment of terror gangs found the UDA to be involved in “organised crime including drug dealing, robbery and extortion”.

The DUP did not respond to Sunday Life questions about whether it thought the photos were appropriate given they were taken so soon after this damning government judgment. The party also refused to reveal if Mr Newton considers East Belfast UDA boss Birch, who presides over a gang involved in drug dealing,  racketeering and punishment beatings, as a “friend”.

All the DUP would say is: “Robin Newton has said he did not mislead the Northern Ireland Assembly and has announced he will not be seeking re-election as speaker. 

“The party supports this decision. Robin continues to do good work as an MLA in East Belfast and he is a valued part of our DUP team.”

Sunday Life can reveal that Mr Newton’s ties to senior members of the UDA go much deeper than his alleged ‘advisor’ role with the UDA-linked Charter NI, which he denies.

These include:

  • Working “jointly” on restorative justice cases with ex-UDA prisoner Sam White, who is now based in his old DUP office;
  • Lobbying for Social Investment Fund (SIF) cash on behalf of UDA-linked projects including Charter NI and Resolve NI;
  • Being publicly defended by UDA boss Jackie McDonald, who praised the MLA as a man of “courage”;

Mr Newton, who has confirmed he will not be a candidate for the speaker’s job if the Assembly returns, has denied BBC Spotlight allegations that he misled politicians over his Charter NI role.

He blocked an SDLP question last year on the awarding of £1.7m of public funds to the group, which counts notorious Bangor UDA boss and convicted robber Dee Stitt as its chief executive.

At the time Mr Newton denied being an “advisor” to Charter NI — a position contradicted by the charity’s documents and minutes of meetings that repeatedly describe him as such.

Charter NI itself happily called Mr Newton an advisor, posting on Facebook in May 2016: “Congratulations to our advisor Robin Newton MLA in being re-elected to represent the people of East Belfast. A post that he works hard for and highly deserves.”

The DUP East Belfast Assemblyman is now facing a police probe over his failure to declare an interest on top of calls to resign from Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance.

Among the concerns raised by rival politicians is the role of active loyalist paramilitaries like Jimmy Birch and Dee Stitt in community groups awarded millions of pounds of public money through the controversial Social Investment Fund (SIF). As a member of the SIF east Belfast steering group, Mr Newton works closely with both terror chiefs.

And he appears sufficiently comfortable in Birch’s company that he raised no objections when the East Belfast UDA boss draped an arm over his shoulder while posing for two all smiles photos.

Another of Robin Newton’s UDA contacts is former prisoner Sam ‘Chalky’ White (59), who was jailed for seven years for his role in a 1979 hold-up at an east Belfast taxi depot. He took a radio operator hostage, subjected him to a mock trial before firing a shot in the tiny office.

White — a failed DUP council candidate — now works for the UDA-linked Resolve project in east Belfast. It claims to assist people targeted by the UDA, proof that the terror gang remains active, and helps to get the threats against them lifted.

Last year Resolve was audited by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate (CJI), which found it had strong backing from a “local MLA” who was “very supportive of Resolve and keen to see it flourish in the interests of community cohesion”.

The report added: “He (the politician) illustrated with examples cases on which they had worked jointly and credited the full-time practitioner (Sam White) with an established track record of trust and respect in the district”.

The unnamed politician cheer-leading on behalf of the UDA-linked Resolve was Robin Newton, whose old office at 13 Castlereagh Road in east Belfast is now occupied by the group.

Another veteran UDA member who is a big fan of the DUP MLA is the terror gang’s south Belfast boss Jackie McDonald.

Writing in the Loyalist magazine earlier this year the convicted extortionist defended the politician for refusing Assembly questions about Charter NI, saying: “Robin Newton found himself in a very difficult situation.

“He had the courage to make the decision that he made and now enemies of the DUP are trying to use his position to help undermine that of the former First Minister.”

Meanwhile, East Belfast UDA brigadier Jimmy Birch’s wife Caroline, who works at Charter NI, has vented her spleen over the BBC investigation into how community groups linked to loyalist paramilitaries are benefitting from Stormont’s Social Investment Fund.

She copied Robin Newton into a tweet in which she fumed: “Disgusting and to think I actually pay a tv licence for this crap.”

Although Sinn Fein was also criticised in the programme, she moaned: “Why do the BBC only focus on one side of the community?”

Meanwhile, ex-Stormont Speaker Lord Alderdice said Mr Newton should have resigned as speaker before now, describing his position as “not tenable”.

Lord Alderdice told the BBC: “If he were an ordinary MLA his position would be invidious enough as it seems he has misled the Assembly. To be Speaker and to find the vast majority of parties don’t want you there because they don’t trust you, or they don’t respect you or don’t believe you’re going to act in a fair and proper way to maintain the Assembly — that’s not a tenable position for a Speaker to be in.”

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